How to Be Safe and Smart on the Internet
The internet is a great place to make and chat with friends, create websites, learn neat new things, and have an infinite amount of fun. Unfortunately, the internet has also attracted a new set of predators who will try to get your personal information for their own malicious ends. To stay safe while enjoying the benefits of the internet, you need to be a smart surfer. Keep a sharp eye out for threats like hackers and cyber-bullies, and keep your personal information secure, and you’ll have a safe internet experience.
Keeping Your Identity Secure
Be wary of giving out identifying information on the internet.Giving away personal information on the internet is like giving away your life. When people are on social networks (Facebook, Myspace, etc.), they often don't realize when they're sharing too much information. There are many ways in which oversharing your personal information can endanger you.
- If you need to enter your name on an account, use a nickname or a fake name. Alternately, you could use an incomplete form of your name. For instance, if you need to enter your name on a form, enter "Eric P." instead of your full name, Eric Pillata.
- Maximize your account privacy wherever possible. Many sites and messenger services have varying levels of privacy. For instance, you may have the option to share your name, date of birth, and where you go to school in addition to the content you post. Hide this data from everyone except your immediate friends. Explore your account settings to ensure that this information is kept confidential.
- Don't post other unique identifying information like your Social Security Number, date of birth, and other data. These are among the most important pieces of information about you, and with them in hand, hackers could easily steal your identity.
- Don't use a picture of you as your profile picture on social networks. Put a picture of something that you love instead. For instance, if you love eating grapes, post a picture of grapes on your social media account or chat messenger service of choice. If some malicious person were to discover your real picture, they might use it to locate and harm you.
- If you are a minor, always ask your parents what personal information they want you to share online.
- Do not overload a user with information, as that user can be hacked and then you sending messages makes you a sitting duck.
Do not give out personal contact information online.This refers not only to your phone number and email, but your social media sites or instant-messaging services. If you make your contact information known to the general public, you might get threatening or abusive messages, or attract unwelcome attention. Keep your accounts visible only to friends who you specifically selected for access.
- If you have a website, keep your domain name registration private. If you list your domain privately, instead of your personal contact info, the contact info of your domain registrar will show up for anyone conducting a domain ownership search.
Think before posting compromising content.The most obvious example of this would be nude pictures or videos.But you could also end up in trouble by posting images, text, or video which celebrates or admits to drug use, racism, and violence. Even if you send this content in confidence to a boyfriend or girlfriend, there’s no way of knowing what they’ll do with it. If you break up, they might, for instance, post the images anonymously online in revenge.
- Even if your social media accounts are private, people might repost your content in a public place where you’d rather it not be seen.
- Once something is on the internet, it is virtually impossible to remove it. Be smart and don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your mother (or a potential employer) to see.
- If a friend posts something on their social media profile, blog, or website which you do not want online, ask them kindly to remove it. If they do not remove it, attempt to force them to remove it by contacting their parents or guardian, or enlist aid of a third party to negotiate with them.
- Be proactive in preventing compromising content from being posted online by telling people who take potentially compromising pictures of you, "Please do not post that online."
- If you are underage, check with your parents before posting anything online.
Be wary of strangers who want to meet.If you are on a dating site or get a message from someone you don’t know who wants to meet, do not meet them unless you are comfortable doing so. Do not give in to pressure from a stranger on the internet to give out your address or other contact info. Remember, with the anonymity of the internet, anyone can claim anything about themselves.
- If you do decide to meet someone from the internet, choose a public place like a restaurant or shopping mall to ensure they are who they claim they are.
- If you are underage and want to meet up with a friend you've met online, check with your parent or guardian to ensure they know the situation.
Dealing With Cyberbullies
Don’t listen to their lies.Cyberbullies will often claim that there are a number of other people who agree with them. They may say that others have contacted them privately about you and your behavior or beliefs in order to bolster their case that there is something wrong with you. This is especially common in long-term online communities like chatrooms or online forums.
- For instance, after enduring several weeks of abuse from a cyberbully you might get a private message from them which reads, “A number of users have contacted me about what you’ve said and agree with me that you are both stupid and ugly.”
Stay cool.Do not let abusive messages hurt your feelings. Remember, the cyberbully is posting or sending abusive content with the express goal of getting a rise out of you. If you feel sad, hurt, or angry, the cyberbully has won. View the situation in a detached light and consider the cyberbully for what he or she is: a pathetic, sad individual who projects their weaknesses and flaws on others.
- Understand that cyberbullies, like any other kind of bullies, are cowards and use the anonymity afforded by the internet to hide who they are. Recognizing this will help you put their opinions and abuse in perspective. It is difficult to take seriously the worthless claims of a coward.
- Don’t blame yourself for the cyberbullying.Don’t, for instance, feel that the abuser might have a point when he or she criticizes a shirt you wore in a picture you posted of yourself. You never deserve slander and abuse online or offline for the clothes you wear (or any other reason).
- Engage in hobbies and interests where you cannot be cyberbullied. Try taking a brief break from the web by playing a sport, picking up a musical instrument, or writing your feelings in a journal. Running or biking are also great choices to relieve stress brought on by cyberbullying.
Do not reply to or engage with cyberbullies.Cyberbullies thrive on the sense of control they derive from taunting and harassing you. When you see their messages in your inbox, or read them in a forum, do not reply in order to deny their charges, and do not reply with an equally malicious line of slander.Doing so would bring you down to their level.
- If possible, block the user on the forum or chat community. This way, they cannot send you messages and you cannot see their posts.
Contact the administrator directly in order to get the individual banned or reprimanded.Keep all abusive messages and emails. Do not delete them. If possible, create a subfolder for these messages labeled “Abuse” and store them there. The messages will serve as evidence for you later if you need to take more serious action. The accumulated emails or messages will serve as evidence that you have been a victim of cyberbullying.
- Each time you receive a message or see a threatening or abusive post, report it to the forum administrator.
- If your cyberbully is sending messages directly to your email, you may need to contact their internet service provider (ISP) directly in order to have their email account shut down. For instance, if you get emails from , you can contact AOL (the provider of the email address) in order to get that email address banned.
- A full list of ISP contact information is available at .
Protecting Yourself From Hackers
Keep your firewall turned on.Your firewall is an option which helps protect your passwords and computer security. You can think of it the same way you think of a lock on your door. If your firewall is down, you open yourself up to hackers who can take or delete information, steal your passwords, and wreak all manner of other havoc. Do not, therefore, switch the firewall off.
- Grant access to the firewall only for authorized programs which require it like games or video streaming services.
Browse with a VPN.A virtual private network (VPN) essentially acts as a middleman between the web and your computer, and provides an extra layer of encryption to your interactions online. The VPN server might be located in a different city or even a different country than the one you reside in, and means that tracing your data back to you is almost impossible.
- For a double-whammy of internet privacy, combine the VPN with your browser’s incognito or privacy mode. Privacy mode prevents data, cookies, your download record, and other info from being saved on your computer.
Avoid public wifi.Wifi hotspots are attractive when you’re out and about but need to hop online for a quick search for directions or other info, but do so with caution. Spend a minimum amount of time logged on to public wifi.
- Be sure what the name of the public wifi hotspot is. Logging into the wrong one, or one with a similar name meant to deliberately deceive public wifi users, could mean your online communication -- including passwords, emails, and bank info -- is being lifted by a hacker.
- Keep your home wifi connection encrypted. Open wifi makes it easy for hackers to access your computer and download illegal files.
- Purchase a new router every few years. Some routers have vulnerabilities which never get corrected.
Add challenging passwords to your online accounts.Whether it’s your social media, online banking, or email account, you’ll feel frustrated and powerless if you suffer a security breach. Use long passwords (greater than eight characters) with a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and (if possible) other characters like underscores and dollar signs.
- Make each password unique and write them down in a notebook that you always keep in one place. You’ll remember the most important and most common ones in time; the less common ones will be accessible with your password notebook.
- Add passwords to your devices, too. Your computer, phone, and tablet should all be password-protected.
- Don't use something obvious as your password like your lover's name, your date of birth, or your name.
Use two-step authentication.Many services have begun using two layers of security, a process called two-step authentication . For instance, Google offers its Gmail users the option to receive a text message containing a random logon key after entering a password on unknown devices. This way, if someone does gain access to your password, they will be unable to use it except on the devices you have selected as safe.
Keep your software updated.If your operating system or internet browser does not incorporate fixes for the latest security glitches, you leave yourself vulnerable to hackers. Set your system and software to automatically update when new updates are available. This will keep your system safe.
- Most software will ask you when you first install it whether you want it to auto-update. Indicate that you do to save yourself the hassle of figuring out how to manually update later.
Download with caution.Hackers and phishers will often send mass emails out to unsuspecting users with worms (malicious data-gathering programs), viruses, or other malware. Users who download email attachments without first scanning them or checking them against known bad files put themselves at risk for a security breach. Do not download attachments in online links, emails, or messages from sources you do not trust.
Utilize antivirus software.Antivirus software can keep unwanted programs and potentially harmful files off your computer. Reputable programs include McAfee Antivirus, Webroot Antivirus, and Bitdefender are among the top antivirus programs.If you’re looking for a more affordable option, Bitdefender has a free antivirus program; Panda Free Antivirus and Avast Free Antivirus are also good options.
- Keep your antivirus software -- like all your software and your OS -- up-to-date. The difference between free and paid antivirus software is usually that free versions do not update as regularly or completely as versions you pay for.
Turn your computer off when it is not being used.Many people choose to leave their computers on all the time. But the longer your computer is on, the more likely it is that you become the target of a hacker. A computer which is not transmitting or receiving internet data cannot be accessed by hackers, spyware, or botnets.
- If someone's harassing you and you're not sure what to do, just block/ignore them at first.
- Signing up for something online? Put the name of the website in the middle name field. Whenever you receive a spam email, you'll know which website sold your email information.
- Some users will try to threaten you in order to get you to release information or do something. These threats are usually air, but report it nonetheless. Don't comply with them, and ignore them if needed.
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